Ordinance on accessory dwelling units explored

The Encinitas City Council on May 17 further explored the possibilities of accessory dwelling units to help the city meet its housing requirement.

The council voted unanimously to bring a new ordinance presented by staff at the meeting regarding the accessory dwelling units — which are additional structures built on pre-existing residential lots to accommodate more housing — to the planning commission, with suggested changes.

The council has expressed support for such units as a way to provide additional, affordable housing options in Encinitas.

“Accessory dwelling units seem like an important part of that [housing] puzzle that we are working on, and this seems like a really great step toward that,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

Under new regulations proposed by staff, one accessory dwelling unit should be allowed per single-family dwelling; owners should live on the land; the units can only be rented, not sold; accessory dwelling units cannot exceed 1,200 square feet if detached or attached (if attached, 1,200 square feet or 50 percent of the living area of the primary residence, whichever is less); one parking space should be available for most newly constructed units (unless they are within a half-mile of transit, created within the area of an existing structure or in a historic district); the units cannot be rented for less than 30 days; and the maximum height is the same as the primary dwelling.

Such units have been favored by residents to help Encinitas reach its mandated state numbers for housing.

Blakespear suggested the units should not be limited for homes of larger sizes, but City Senior Planner Kerry Kusiak said 1,200 is the limit under state law.

Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath said lots should not be limited to one accessory unit, but rather 1,200 square feet total for one or multiple units.

Blakespear also cautioned staff to bring their ordinance to the Coastal Commission early on in the process to avoid opposition, referring to the commission's denial of the city's proposed Coastal Rail Trail being on the west side earlier this month.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz also said the ordinance should be adjusted for zoning.

The council at the meeting also decided to continue the city's affordable unit policy, which went into effect in 1996 and provides amnesty to property owners of units that were constructed without permits.

Currently, there are 34 existing dwelling units that have been permitted in the program, two dwelling units in the process and two dwelling units with active construction permits, according to the city.

The council last December gave direction to city staff to pursue legislation to ease building codes for unpermitted accessory dwelling units in the city. One of the hopes is Encinitas avoiding a situation like the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire, in which 36 people on Dec. 2 died in a warehouse that contained unpermitted residential units, according to a city document.

In March, the council drafted a locally-initiated bill regarding the units. The suggested bill, carried by California Senator Patricia Bates, would allow a local inspector to certify that the accessory dwelling units meet basic health and safety codes. The council on May 17 directed staff to continue to work on the bill to seek legislative relief to "allow local building officials discretion and flexibility to issue permits for existing, unpermitted dwelling units provided that health and safety standards are maintained," according to a city document.

Encinitas is the only city in San Diego County without a Housing Element, a required document that spells out how a city proposes to rework its zoning to accommodate its future housing needs, particularly those of low-income people, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. The city’s original plan, which it is still working off of, was created in the 1990s.

State law currently mandates Encinitas should zone for 1,093 high-density units, according to city officials.

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